Recently, our Aunt Sophie came up to see my Ma, and in order to make life a little easier and to give Ma some extra time to visit, I offered to make several meals ahead of time for the week. Normally, Ma has to cook dinner for my brother, nephew, and grandmother. So, the goal was to make a few large one stop meals that could be complemented with a quick dinner salad and that’s it. One of the meals was a Creamy Penne Rigate with Chicken, Ham, and Peas in an Alfredo sauce with Panko, Parmesan, and Mozzarella topping. When Aunt Sophie arrived, we all ate dinner together, and it was such a hit that she asked for the recipe so she could make it for her grandchildren when she returned home to San Antonio.
Before I post this, in the spirit of full disclosure, I did use a store bought Alfredo sauce for this particular recipe. I know. I know. It’s a horrible thing to do, but because I was making 7-9 large meals in one afternoon, I didn’t make a bechamel like I would have done normally because I needed to save some time. I did, however, doctor the jar, which made me feel a little bit better about my atrocious deed.
Creamy Penne Rigate with Chicken, Ham, and Peas in Alfredo topped with Panko, Parmesan and Mozzarella
1 Large Onion Quartered
2 Individual Packages Baby Carrots
1 Tablespoon Whole Rainbow Peppercorns
2 Tablespoons Knorr Chicken Bouillon (Caldo de Pollo)
4 Large Garlic Cloves Smashed and Peeled
4 Large Boneless Chicken Breasts
2 Cups Whole Smoked Ham Cubed
1 Package Frozen Peas
2 Jars of Best Quality Alfredo Sauce (OR make a bechamel sauce and add copious amounts of Parmesan to the sauce)
1 16oz Box Dry Penne Rigate Pasta
1/2 Cup Panko Crumbs
1 Cup Shredded Parmesan (OR freshly grated)
1 Cup Shredded Mozzarella (OR hand torn in small pieces)
2 Tablespoons Butter Melted
Preheat the oven to 375°
Fill a large 6-8 quart pot with warm water up 3/4 of the side. On medium high heat, add quartered onion, baby carrots, peppercorns, bouillon, garlic and chicken breasts to the water and then bring to a low boil. Once the chicken is cooked thoroughly, remove the chicken and set aside to cool. Taste the broth and adjust seasonings. Strain the broth and transfer the onions, carrots, peppercorns and garlic to a blender. Add broth to the mixture in the blender about half way, just to help liquefy the ingredients. Blend until smooth. Return the ingredients from the blender to the broth and place back on low heat to keep warm. Taste and adjust seasonings, as needed.
Once chicken is cool enough to handle, shred by using your hands or by using two forks to separate the meat. Place shredded chicken in an extra large bowl and add the cubed ham, frozen peas, 1/2 cup of shredded Parmesan and 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella, then set aside. Add the two jars of the best quality Alfredo sauce you can purchase, and then when the jar is empty, add the seasoned broth halfway up each jar. Place the lid back on the jar and shake vigorously to remove all sauce from inside the jar, then add both jar remains into the extra large bowl with the other ingredients.
In a separate medium size soup pot, fill 1/2 up with the warm broth and then add warm water up 3/4 of the side of the soup pot. You should still have some broth left in the original pot continuing to stay warm at a low heat. Bring the water/broth mixture to a boil. Add the box of penne rigate to the boiling water/broth mixture, and stir the penne rigate frequently for 6 minutes or until the pasta is almost done but still under cooked. Remove the under cooked pasta from the water/broth mixture and transfer the pasta to the extra large bowl with the other ingredients and thoroughly mix all the ingredients together. Discard the water/broth mixture.
Once all the ingredients are completely incorporated and coated with the sauce, transfer the entire contents of the extra large bowl into a deep lasagna baking dish or large disposable foil roaster for easier clean up. Once the mixture is evenly distributed in the pan, ladle approximately 3/4 cup of the warming broth over the entire mixture. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan, mozzarella, and Panko alternating evenly over the entire surface of the mixture. Using a spoon, drizzle the melted butter evenly over the entire mixture to help the Panko and cheese brown in the oven. Create a loose foil tent to avoid touching the top of the mixture but seal around the ends to cover the pan.
Place in a 375° oven for 30 minutes or until the cheese is completely melted and the Creamy Penne Rigate is warmed through. Remove from the oven and remove the loose foil cover. Place back into the oven and set the oven to Broil. Carefully watch the Creamy Penne Rigate while it is browning under the broiler. Once the browning process starts, it will go fast.
Once the panko and cheese topping becomes golden brown and bubbly, remove the Creamy Penne Rigate from the oven carefully and then turn off the oven completely.
Yields 8-10 Servings